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The Other Poisoned Chalice: Unprecedented Evidentiary Standards in the Gbagbo case? (Part 3)

Published on November 6, 2019        Author: 

In this three-part series I seek to draw attention to legally-unprecedented and epistemologically-unsound evidentiary standards emerging at the ICC, particularly in the Gbagbo case.  The mainstream reaction to the Gbagbo case has been to accept the narrative that the problem lies entirely with evidence.  However, when the majority derides the “questionable quality of much of the evidence” (§1608), it speaks from a lens of Cartesian standards. If one reads the judgment instead through the lens of more typical legal standards, the evidence is harrowing.  Thousands of diverse items of evidence – eye-witnesses, videos, insiders, experts, and forensic and documentary evidence – attest to hundreds of instances of killing, wounding, raping, torturing and burning of civilians by police and other pro-Gbagbo forces.

At Nuremberg, Robert Jackson warned that giving the defendants an unfair trial would be a poisoned chalice for the tribunal itself.  My concern is that opposite extreme is also a poisoned chalice.  An exclusive focus on the interests of the accused, to the exclusion of all other considerations, leading to rarified and ungrounded standards, will also collapse the system.  If unchecked, these standards can only lead to repeated collapses of investigations and prosecutions.  We are at an interesting moment, because scholars are rightly warning against ‘crisis narratives’, and I myself have appealed for less alarmism.   Nonetheless I think that evidentiary standards are now one of the most crucial topics for study and reform.

The previous two posts (see Part I here and Part II here) gave only a cursory outline of problematic approaches to evidence and examples thereof. I will now touch on two related points, (1) evidentiary expectations for crimes against humanity and (2) investigative criticisms that overlook the applicable legal regime, and then I will conclude. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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The Other Poisoned Chalice: Unprecedented Evidentiary Standards in the Gbagbo Case? (Part 2)

Published on November 6, 2019        Author: 

My aim in this three-part series is to start a conversation about unusual and problematic evidentiary standards emerging at the ICC.  These standards flow from a commendable impulse to uphold the highest standards, but they entail an unprecedented and unattainable exactitude. In my view, if these standards take hold, they will result in the repeated crashing of complex cases, making them especially poorly suited for precisely the types of cases the ICC is mandated to deal with. 

In my view, the more common and appropriate approach, seen in national and international practice, is even-handed, holistic, experiential and practical.  The experiential approach draws on human experience.  It employs sound methods of reasoning, such as triangulation, extrapolation, interpolation, and inference to best explanation, and thus it is can work judiciously with patterns and inferences.  It is also practical: it bears in mind feasibility and procedural economy.

For brevity, I will call the alternative, emerging approach the “Cartesian” approach. I introduced its features in part 1 of this series, such as its hyperscepticality, atomism, and fixation with certainty and speculative doubts.  In this post I will give some additional examples of problematic evidentiary approaches as seen in the Gbagbo trial decision.  As the judgments are over 1300 pages, I am only able to outline some of the concerns and some examples in the most general and cursory.  My hope is to trigger an invigorated discussion of international criminal evidence law.

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The Other Poisoned Chalice: Unprecedented Evidentiary Standards in the Gbagbo Case? (Part 1)

Published on November 5, 2019        Author: 

The aim of this post is to start a conversation about unusual evidentiary standards emerging in some judgments at the ICC.  Although the underlying impetus is commendable, these standards pose legally unprecedented and epistemologically unsound demands.  Remarkably, these novel evidentiary approaches, which depart significantly from national and international practice, have not yet triggered much conversation.  As recent cases (such as Gbagbo) have ended in acquittals, the Court-watching community has largely simply echoed the judicial criticisms of the evidence, and hence blamed inadequate investigations.  While investigative improvements are likely part of the solution, any serious effort to repair the ICC has to consider these evidentiary standards.  These standards will significantly increase the costs and delays of ICC proceedings.  In cases of any complexity, the standards can only result in failed cases.  An invigorated sub-discipline – international criminal evidence law – is urgently needed.

In this three-part series of posts, I will focus on the Gbagbo acquittal judgment.  Douglas Guilfoyle’s thoughtful ‘tale of two cases’ advances a hypothesis that the different outcome between the Gbagbo acquittal and Ntaganda conviction is because the latter focused on an easier, smaller case.  That may be true, but I want to place alongside that another hypothesis, that the difference between the two outcomes may in part be the very different approaches by the judges.

I open with a word of sympathy for judges.  At an earlier stage of international criminal law, Tribunal judges were often criticized by academics (including me) for adopting approaches that were too pro-conviction and that overlooked rights of the accused.  Hence it is entirely understandable that judges and legal officers may have lurched in the other direction, with an eagerness to demonstrate their unparalleled care for the accused. 

The problem is when the zeal for impeccable standards swings too far, and produces a method that is so rigid, formalistic, and hypersceptical that it loses sight of substance and feasibility. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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A Tale of Two Cases: Lessons for the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (Part III)

Published on August 30, 2019        Author: 

In earlier posts in this series (here and here) I have examined the ICC Office of the Prosecutor’s (OTP) great successes and failures of July 2019. A successful conviction in Ntaganda and a dismissal of its case in Gbagbo and Blé Goudé. I’ve noted a number of important differences between the two cases and in this post I’d like to reflect on the way forward. First, I will ask what lessons appear to have been taken to heart in the OTP’s new strategic plan. Second, I’ll offer a few brief concluding thoughts to this series of posts.

What has the OTP learned? The Strategic Plan 2019-2021

There are a number of encouraging signs in the new OTP Strategic Plan. Broadly, it acknowledges that preparing high-quality cases with the best chances of success in Court will require pursuing fewer cases, those cases may need to be narrower, and there will need to be a process for situations under preliminary investigation to be closed. Read the rest of this entry…

 

A Tale of Two Cases: Lessons for the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (Part II)

Published on August 29, 2019        Author: 

In this three part series of posts I’m reflecting on the lessons to be learned from the sharply contrasting results last month at the International Criminal Court with a conviction entered in Ntaganda and reasons finally being released for the dismissal of the Prosecution case in Gbagbo and Blé GoudéThe former involved a rebel commander accused of being a co-perpetrator of attacks against civilians, including sexual offences and sexual enslavement. Yesterday, I noted that in Ntaganda the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) benefitted from its long engagement with, and consequent deep knowledge of, the relevant conflict. It also ran a well-prepared case targeting a rebel leader (as both a direct and indirect perpetrator) and had framed charges based in common facts and a limited number of key incidents. Gbagbo and Blé Goudé involved allegations that the former president of Côte D’Ivoire organised attacks upon civilian supporters of his principal political rival in post-election violence. The key question, of course, is what accounts for the difference in outcomes?

Today I will examine Gbagbo and Blé Goudé in some detail, and tomorrow I will ask – looking at the OTP’s new strategy document – whether the right lessons have been learned. 

What went wrong in Gbagbo and Blé Goudé

The majority in the Gbagbo and Blé Goudé Trial Chamber for the no case to answer motion were Judges Henderson and Tarfusser, Judge Herrera-Carbuccia dissenting. For reasons of space, I will focus on the Henderson and Tarfusser separate opinions (although technically, Judge Tarfusser concurs in Judge Henderson’s reasons for dismissing the case which makes his opinion the Chamber’s “reasons”). In sum, though, their account of what went wrong for the Prosecutor was: a poorly conducted investigation was conducted which then had to underpin an inflexible and overly simplistic case theory, which was in turn poorly executed in the courtroom. “In a nutshell, the majority acquitted Mr Gbagbo and Mr Blé Goudé because the way in which the Prosecutor depicted their actions and omissions from a legal point of view could not be sustained by the evidence” (Judge Henderson, Preliminary remarks, para 2). These opinions do not make for comfortable reading. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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A Tale of Two Cases: Lessons for the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court? (Part I)

Published on August 28, 2019        Author: 

Last month was a mixed one for the ICC Office of the Prosecutor. On 8 July 2019 it appeared that the ICC “had found its footing”, with a Trial Chamber delivering a staid, methodical judgment in Ntaganda. This was a double victory for the OTP: a conviction of a rebel leader in a truly horrific conflict; and a public affirmation that it could present a well-run and coherent case. However, on 16 July 2019, reasons for the ‘no case to answer’ decision were released in Gbagbo and Blé Goudé (‘Gbagbo’) in which the majority (Judges Henderson and Tarfusser) were scathing in their assessment of the OTP’s performance. Then on 26 July 2019 the OTP released the final version of its Strategic Plan 2019-2021 which noted, with some understatement, there has been “a period of mixed results in court” and “significant setbacks”. In fairness to the OTP no-one, not even the majority in Gbagbo, doubts that the OTP has hard-working and dedicated staff prosecuting cases of great complexity (see para 9 of the Reasons of Judge Henderson). The question is, how can the same Office produce such different results? A key problem in Gbagbo was that the majority of the Trial Chamber were completely unpersuaded by the Prosecutor’s ‘system of evidence’ and case theory. Yet, this was not a problem in Ntaganda. What accounts for the difference?

Over three blog posts I propose to look at: first, what went right in Ntaganda; second, what went wrong in Gbagbo; and, third, to ask whether the new OTP Strategic Plan has learned the right lessons and set the right priorities. I will also reflect in that final post on whether these results pose a significant challenge to my recent posts critical of ICC performance (spoiler alert: no, they do not). Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Part I- This is not fine: The International Criminal Court in Trouble

Published on March 21, 2019        Author: 

Editor’s note: This is Part I of a three-part series.

There is now a real sense that the International Criminal Court is in trouble. The questions are: how much, why and what is to be done?

The UK pulled no punches in its statement to the 17th International Criminal Court Assembly of State Parties:

The United Kingdom strongly supports the aims of the ICC and believes there is an essential role for an international institution like the Court in delivery of justice at the international level. But as an Assembly of States Parties to the Statute, we cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything is fine when it isn’t. The statistics are sobering. After [nearly] 20 years, and 1.5 billion Euros spent we have only three core crime convictions. As others have said, and I quote “it is undeniable that the Rome project still falls short of the expectations of the participants at that ground-breaking conference in Rome”. The time has come for States to take a fundamental look at how the Court is operating. We need to work together to address the challenges, for the future health of the Court, a Court that we care about deeply.

The UK statement, delivered by Legal Director Andrew Murdoch,* ‘welcome[d] the steps taken by the Prosecutor to investigate the media allegations surrounding the former Prosecutor that surfaced twelve months ago’ and noted that the ‘Court is in danger of spending more money on internal litigation, including litigation on salaries, than on victims’.

Some will no doubt point to ongoing ICC investigations into the actions of UK personnel in Iraq, to impugn the UK’s motives in making these points. Its criticisms, however, are undeniably grounded in fact. Things are not fine. In April it will be 16 years since the Court’s first prosecutor was sworn in. A widespread sense among the ICC’s supporters that there is some soul-searching to be done about the future direction of the Court has only been heightened in the weeks since the Gbagbo acquittal.

Let’s be clear about the paucity of concrete results. There have been eight convictions, one overturned on appeal, one arising from a guilty plea and four relating to Article 70 administration of justice offences. The four convictions for offences against the administration of justice all arise out of the Central African Republic investigation and involve sentences of 6 months to 3 years. The other convictions may be summarised as:

  • Bemba (CAR) – sentenced to 18 years, overturned on appeal; an administration of justice case continues;
  • Katanga (DRC) – sentenced to 12 years, transferred back to DRC custody with ‘sentence served’ after 8 years;
  • Lubanga (DRC) – convicted to 14 years;
  • Al-Mahdi (Mali) – proceeded on a guilty plea and was sentenced to 9 years.

This is to set aside the very considerable disquiet expressed regarding the Katanga conviction, involving the dismissal of charges against his alleged co-perpetrator and judicial recharacterization of the relevant mode of liability after the close of proceedings. There is also now the very public embarrassment of both the collapse of the Kenya situation prosecutions and now the entry of acquittals on a “no case to answer” motion by the Trial Chamber in Gbagbo. As Labuda notes, if the Gbagbo acquittal is upheld on appeal, the ICC will be in the ‘rather awkward’ position of having acquitted more alleged international criminal than it has convicted. Indeed, as Dürr points out, to have more acquittals and terminated proceedings than convictions is unique among international criminal tribunals.

There are certainly more complex, and arguably more important, metrics by which to judge the success or failure of an international criminal tribunal than the number of its convictions. Indeed, we would rightly be sceptical of the fairness of proceedings that only resulted in conviction. However, to the extent that the Court is meant to serve expressivist goals, fight impunity, or deter atrocity – it must present some credible threat to those who should fear accountability. It is often argued that the simple possibility of ICC accountability may deter atrocity and that the existence of institutions may change behaviour. As lawyers we know that behaviour changes in the ‘shadow of the court’, but that court must first cast a shadow.

In a series of reflections, I will argue that we should now be very worried about the extent to which the Court is casting much of a shadow at all. In exploring who and what is to blame for this situation, I will pursue two themes: conditions and culture. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Acquittals by the International Criminal Court

Published on January 18, 2019        Author: 

Earlier this week, a Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court acquitted Laurent Gbago, former President of Côte d’Ivoire, and his right-hand man, Charles Blé Goudé. (In what follows, I will refer only to Gbagbo). By a majority of two to one, the judges held that there was insufficient evidence to place Gbagbo on his defense. The Prosecutor has indicated that she will appeal this decision.

Critics of the ICC claim that this track record constitutes an indictment of the Court. They point, in comparison, to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). During its active life from 1995 to 2017, it indicted 161 individuals of whom 99 were sentenced, 19 acquitted and 13 referred to domestic courts.  The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, during its period of activity indicted 96 individuals of whom 62 were sentenced, 14 acquitted and 10 referred to domestic courts.  

I would suggest, however, that the comparison is not a fair one. In the case of the UN tribunals, each court was given a specific mandate that extended over a defined territory – the states that comprised the former Yugoslavia in the case of the first and Rwanda in the second. They were supported by resolutions of the Security Council that were legally binding on all members of the United Nations. They had the full and active support of the United States that brought its political and economic muscle to back that support. On the other side, the ICC has jurisdiction over war crimes perpetrated in 123 States or committed anywhere by a person who is a national of one of those 123 States. On this ground alone the differences become manifest.

That mistakes have been made by organs of the ICC cannot be doubted. However, it is always easy to criticise in hindsight. Some proceedings have taken too long. Some of the judges have been less than prompt in issuing their decisions. Criticism of, as well as praise for, the ICC has come both from civil society and from governments.

In June 2018, there was a massive outpouring of criticism at the decision of a majority of the ICC Appeals Chamber acquitting the former Vice-President of the Central African Republic, Jean-Pierre Bemba. 

Read the rest of this entry…